The competition was intense, but also extremely quiet as 40 children faced off in a regional chess tournament at Sacred Heart Catholic School Saturday.
The clicking and sliding of pawns and rooks, bishops and knights, queens and kings across dozens of boards were the only sounds in the school's lunchroom as play got under way, with a chance to represent the region at the state tournament in Portland next month at stake.
Sam Sosa, an 8-year-old from Jacksonville, had earned trips to state twice before — wrapping up a spot as a regional champion when he was in kindergarten — and hoped to nail another berth.
"I started when I was 3," he said. "Now I study with books, play on the computer, play with two clubs."
I watch movies about chess and learn about famous people like Bobby Fischer.
"I think I can be one of the best," said Sam, adding that he wants to write a chess book and start his own chess club to teach kids the game.
"There is a huge need for more chess clubs," said his mom, Ileen Sosa, who plays chess but doesn't compete in tournaments. "It's a great way to teach focus and planning. You can find the solution on the board and then see it through."
The potential for the venerable strategy game to help train young minds is why Chess for Success, a Portland-based nonprofit group, organizes chess tournaments around the state, said program director Heather Abbott.
Michelle Stockton, coach of Sacred Heart's chess club and one of the tournament's local organizers, said she has seen how chess can help any student — from the most rambunctious student who is learning to sit still and pay attention to studious sorts who need an extra challenge beyond the classroom.
"I believe it is a game worth playing for people of all ages," said Ashland Middle School seventh-grader Andrew Danielson.
He said his parents are both chess players who introduced him to the game when he was 3. He started playing in tournaments in sixth grade and has competed around the state.
"In my opinion, I'm only a mediocre chess player, but I know that with practice I will get better," Andrew said.
He said he also likes to meet people at tournaments.
"Some students might think they would be written down as a nerd for playing chess, but it's not a bad decision socially," he said.